Spy in the sky: Baltimore police secretly patrol citizens with tech used in Iraq war
Police in Baltimore are facing a new scandal for their use of surveillance planes from the Iraq war to secretly spy on residents.
The aerial snooping has been happening since January without authorities informing the public they are being monitored for as much as 10 hours a day, Bloomberg reports.
Police from both Baltimore city and county are already under fire for the shooting of 23-year-old mother Korryn Gaines earlier this month – and face blowback from a damning report detailing the use of excessive force and targeting of minors.
While a fictional version of Baltimore’s police force was featured in the HBO series “The Wire,” the real-life version has been criticized for its warrantless use of Sting Ray cell phone tapping equipment favored by the National Security Agency.
The Cessna spy plane is fully kitted out with cameras and bankrolled by “justice reform” advocates from Texas, Laura and her husband John Arnold, the former Enron trader who made billions in hedge funds.
MIT-trained, Air Force Academy-graduate Ross McNutt created the spy planes for use in the Iraq war. The founder of the USAF’s Center for Rapid Product Development, he was tasked with creating a system to catch those planting roadside IEDs in Iraq, and produced Angel Fire, a live-feed surveillance system that uses synchronized cameras attached to a plane.
The camera images are stabilized and stitched together using computers, then fed to the ground, producing a constantly updated photographic map of the area.
The Angel Fire technology was used in Iraq from 2007. McNutt then moved on to courting commercial and local government clients.
LA County Sheriff’s Department tested the system in 2012 with a nine-day trial over Compton. Citizens protested after they found out they had been surveilled a year later.
Baltimore was later chosen as the ideal place for surveillance “because it was ready, it was willing, and it was post-Freddy Gray,” McNutt said, referring to the African-American man who was killed while in police custody in 2015.
During the trial of Caesar Goodson, the only police officer brought up on charges for the death of 25-year-old Gray (and eventually acquitted), protesters gathered outside the courthouse had no idea that overhead, they were being watched by the same police force.
Cops, and their super-rich benefactors, are able to monitor an area by streaming real-time images to analysts down below. The footage is also stored on hard drives for easy access later.
Crimes are logged each day and any that may be solved with the help of Persistent Surveillance are highlighted, although it’s not known if police brutality is being tracked.
The equipment can be used to follow the route of criminals fleeing a crime scene, but can also be used for unwarranted surveillance.
McNutt approached the ACLU to counter accusations of invading privacy. While the ACLU appreciated his candor, they were alarmed at the “Big Brother” implications of such a system.